School committee sets date for logo discussion with indigenous tribes

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Before a decision can be made on the final future of Dartmouth High Indian’s controversial logo, school officials say they want input from all Native American tribes in the area.

At a meeting on Monday, January 24, the Dartmouth School Board decided to set March 8 as the date for a public meeting between the council and tribal representatives to hear their views on the use of the logo.

Committee chairperson Dr Shannon Jenkins said school officials had been trying to meet with local tribesmen for months but had faced repeated delays due to Covid, scheduling conflicts and vacations.

The issue of the mascot change has been controversial for some time, prompting repeated debates over Native American representation in recent years.

As national sports franchises dropped their Native American-themed mascots and states introduced legislation banning such logos in schools, academics and civil rights organizations repeatedly approached the school to replace the Indian logo.

The Dartmouth school committee set up an equality and diversity sub-committee earlier this year to address the issue and make a recommendation on whether or not to keep the school mascot.

The subcommittee had scheduled public forums last year on the logo issue, but no such meeting took place in 2021.

Some members of the school committee were concerned that the subcommittee had taken too long to do its job.

“I would like to put this to bed,” member John Nunes said. “I would like the committee to reaffirm the Indian as the school logo,” and if we need to consult with the native tribes, we can do so.

The subcommittee, also chaired by Jenkins, suffered scheduling delays, due in part to the busy schedules of its members.

“Chairing the diversity committee was one straw too many,” Jenkins said, citing a full-time job and school committee duties to contend with. “I need help moving the process forward.”

Adding to the pressure to keep the mascot was a letter from representatives of the Gay Head Wampanoag, a nationally recognized tribe, opposing a change in the logo.

The Wampanoag tribe of Gay Head Aquinnah wants the town to “keep [the] name and logo,’ Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, former Dartmouth resident, Tribe President, wrote in an email to Dartmouth Week.

She described the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head Aquinnah as one of only three historical and officially recognized tribes in Massachusetts.

The Aquinnah and Mashpee Wampanoag are the only tribes in Massachusetts listed as federally recognized by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

However, neither tribe claims Dartmouth as their homeland, Jenkins said.

The tribe that inhabited what is now Dartmouth is the Pocasset Wampanoag, according to Jenkins, who she says was less supportive of the logo.

The Pocasset Wampanoag are not a nationally recognized tribe, but they are recognized by the Commonwealth and have a reservation in Fall River and Freetown.

Jenkins said that despite the delays, she would not be comfortable voting to affirm the mascot before meeting with members of the Pocasset, Aquinnah and Mashpee tribes, in addition to someone from the National Congress of American Indians.

“If we want to move forward without hearing about the tribe claiming Dartmouth as their homeland, I think that’s a problem,” she said. “I don’t think we’re inclusive.”

School committee member Kathleen Amaral echoed Jenkins’ sentiments.

“I don’t feel ready to vote yes or no tonight,” she said.

Instead, the committee agreed to set a date, March 8, for a discussion with tribal representatives, hoping that a deadline would help motivate all parties to plan their participation.

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